For the fifth straight season, National University failed to book a ticket into the Final Four.
This time around, the circumstances are arguably more painful for the Bulldogs as they failed to prevail over De La Salle University, for whom it was already a non-bearing contest.
NU folded to La Salle 65-76 and there was a sense of huge disappointment as it felt that the Green Archers wanted the win more than the Bulldogs, who were looking to force a play-off for the fourth spot against Far Eastern University.
“Siguro mas hungry manalo yung La Salle against us.
“We will come back stronger na lang next season,” said NU coach Jeff Napa. “Kagaya ng lagi kong sinasabi – we need to move forward. Although nakaka-disappoint kasi may chance kami to extend the season pero we fell short.
“There are no words to describe yung talo na yun. We will come back stronger na lang next season. Babaonin namin tong defeat na to para at least yung mga young ones magkaroon ng inspirasyon para coming next season, alam na nila ang gagawin nila para hindi na darasin itong experience na heartbreak. Masakit pero we have to move forward eh,” he continued.
The former Letran coach, though, was particularly disappointed at his seniors.
In their final UAAP game, Shaun Ildefonso was held scoreless and rebound-less in seven minutes of play while Issa Gaye only logged seven minutes for two points and three turnovers. Jonas Tibayan, meanwhile, got four points and a rebound in six minutes of action.
Leading scorer John Lloyd Clemente went 0-of-3 from the field in close to nine minutes of play while fourth-year guard Enzo Joson only got two points and an assist in eight minutes.
“Although we fell short on the young ones, absent ata yung mga beterano ko kung kelan pang huling napakaimportanteng laban. Present yung mga bata so ganun lang kasimple. Yung mga bata ginamit ko. Dumikit pero kinapos. Ganun talaga,” said Napa.
“It’s my coach’s decision na hindi na sila ibalik. We feel ngayong game is they’re not ready to play enough to be competitive. Kaya siguro naging ganun turnaround ng game namin but still positive,” he continued.
“Yung mga young ones namin, up to the last, hindi bumitaw. Yun yung babaonin namin coming into the next season.”
Despite the anticlimactic finale, NU had a season to remember by all accounts. The Bulldogs were able to get six wins, which are a far cry from their 2-12 campaign back in Season 82.
Because of how long Napa has worked in coaching circles, it is easy to forget that this is his first season as a head coach in the UAAP. While the ending was not something he envisioned, he understands that this is simply part of the process for him.
“Ako rin learning experience sa akin ito. As a rookie coach here in the UAAP kalaban yung mga beteranong coach, siguro it’s still a challenge for me para pagbutihan ko pa. Siguro kulang pa. Kulang pa rin,” said the multi-time UAAP Juniors champion coach.
“Siguro with the guidance of my coaches, with the help from them, it’s really a factor for us para sa akin din. Sa personality ko, sa transformation ko rin, malaking bagay din ang guidance sa akin ng coaches ko. Babaonin ko rin ito coming to next season.”